Opinion
Teaching Profession CTQ Collaboratory

Open Your Classroom Door to ‘Be Better’

By Jessica Cuthbertson — May 14, 2013 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

It’s May. It’s spring in Colorado. My 6th graders are starting to sound, smell, and act like ... 7th graders. Sunshine and storms trade places depending on the day, so outdoor recess is not a given. Energy is high and motivation is a struggle. Summer is just around the corner and weeks, days, and hours away. Many instructional hours away.

And yet, it’s been a great week in room 214. A rich week of learning. Why?

I wasn’t flying solo—I had backup. Every day, but especially in May, students need their teachers’ A-game. I’ve noticed that I’m more willing to take risks, try new things, and reflect “in the moment” with a colleague in the room alongside me.

On Tuesday, Joe Dillon, the instructional coordinator for educational technology in Aurora Public Schools, supported me in my classroom. We talked through the lesson, he observed my class, and he interacted and conferred with kids. Following the lesson, he provided me with meaningful feedback around leveraging digital tools to increase student ownership.

On Thursday, Lori Nazareno, teacher-in-residence with the Center for Teaching Quality, visited my classroom. She helped me monitor the “double bubble” Socratic circle as kids engaged in text-based discourse—face-to-face in the inner circle and on Edmodo in the outer circle. This was the first time I’d tried this twist on the Socratic circle with this group of students. Having two adults monitor the live discussion and push the online discourse to deeper levels was invaluable.

Neither visitor is my evaluator. But I respect them both highly as accomplished educators who know their stuff and “get” adolescents. Their mere presence in my classroom makes me a better teacher.

The great poet Maya Angelou says, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, be better.” I’ve adopted this as my new teaching mantra.

Seeing Things Anew

Becoming better teachers is easier than we sometimes think. At the beginning of the school year, I wrote about doing the work alongside students as a way to vet the quality of our tasks, prompts, and assignments. Letting others into our classrooms is another way to get better. Just opening our doors, wide and often, can help us see our students and practices with new eyes.

How can we do this?

• Start small. Invite a colleague in during their planning period and reciprocate by visiting their classroom during yours. Bonus points if you share students and can see them in action in another content area.

• Get bigger. Host a “Bring the Community to School Day” as a way to “flip” the “Bring Your Child to Work Day” annual event. Create several “visit” days throughout the school year as a way to showcase student work and strengthen community partnerships. Invite parents, school board members, and other district and community leaders. Great teaching and learning deserve an audience.

• Leverage tools. Be your own coach by videotaping frequently and sharing clips with colleagues you trust, your evaluator(s), your students, and others. Watch the footage yourself to see your classroom from an outsider’s perspective. Follow teacherpreneur Ryan Kinser’s approach to “blowing the doors off your classroom” by starting your own VLC (video learning community).

Opening our doors, videotaping instruction, and sharing our practice can be scary. Classrooms are unpredictable places and interruptions are inevitable. Even the most well-planned lesson rarely goes exactly as planned. I was reminded of this when I had to reschedule my colleague’s visit multiple times due to testing windows that invaded our protected learning space. Be persistent and take the plunge. It’s worth it.

If you haven’t done so already, consider going through the National Board-certification submission process, which includes videotaping and reflecting on your practice. Engaging in the certification process has helped me identify the professional-learning experiences that have made me a better teacher. (Hint: Transformative experiences rarely happen in “traditional” professional-learning structures like staff meetings, conferences, or workshops.)

Videotaping instruction and hosting visitors motivates me to reflect on why I do what I do, and how I can do it better. What would happen if we taught as if every lesson was being videotaped for an external audience or being observed by someone whose opinion we valued? Collective improvement.

If you want to get even better—starting today—open your classroom door and let the camera roll.

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
Future of the First Amendment:Exploring Trends in High School Students’ Views of Free Speech
Learn how educators are navigating student free speech issues and addressing controversial topics like gender and race in the classroom.
Content provided by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Webinar
Real-World Problem Solving: How Invention Education Drives Student Learning
Hear from student inventors and K-12 teachers about how invention education enhances learning, opens minds, and preps students for the future.
Content provided by The Lemelson Foundation

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession How Teachers Are Spending Their Summer Vacation
Swimming, hiking, and an occasional academic project are on the agenda.
1 min read
Lifeguards watch over children and their families as they enjoy the shallow end of the Woodson Family Aquatic Center on the opening day of the 2022 pool season Saturday, May 28, 2022 in Odessa, Texas.
Lifeguards watch over children and their families at the Woodson Family Aquatic Center as pool season opens in Odessa, Texas.
Eli Hartman/Odessa American via AP
Teaching Profession Letter to the Editor Can Educators Agree to Disagree Respectfully?
We must acknowledge that there are strong, defensible differences in perspectives about divisive topics, writes an educator.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Q&A The First 5 Years in the Classroom Are Tough. This Teacher Has Ideas to Lessen the Burden
A middle school teacher talks about why educators need to share stories about their jobs—and find schools that reflect their values.
7 min read
Patrick Harris
Patrick Harris
Teaching Profession Teachers in Texas Shooting Died Trying to Shield Students, Their Families Say
Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia, both veteran teachers, co-taught a 4th grade class at their Uvalde, Texas, elementary school.
3 min read
Fourth grade co-teachers Irma Garcia, left, and Eva Mireles.
Fourth grade co-teachers Irma Garcia, left, and Eva Mireles, were killed in the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, alongside 19 children.
Courtesy of Uvalde CISD